Conquering menopausal weight gain

I’m 47 and recently went on estrogen. Since then, I’ve put on 10 pounds. I run 3 to 4 miles a day and watch my diet, but the weight keeps piling on. What fat-burning exercises might work?

First, let me reassure you that estrogen should not be the culprit. In fact, it may help you stay thin. In studies involving more than 2,000 women, results consistently show that those taking hormone replacement therapy do not gain more weight. Many of them actually gain less than postmenopausal women not taking estrogen. One exception: If you take more estrogen than you need, you may retain fluid and your breasts may enlarge, making it look like you gained a few extra pounds. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor to get the right dosage.

What may be causing the weight gain is a decrease in muscle mass. After about age 30, most people start losing muscle – about ½ pound a year. This loss also appears to accelerate in women during menopause. Since muscles are the body’s calorie burning engine, the more muscle you lose, the fewer calories you burn throughout the day. For every pound of muscle you lose, you burn about 50 calories less a day. Over a year, that could result in a 5 pound weight gain even if you’re eating the same as you always have.

Although aerobic exercise such as running is great for burning calories, improving your cardiovascular fitness, and reducing your risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer, it does little to maintain or build muscle. To pump up your muscle mass and boost your calorie burn, you need to add weight training to your current routine. Do one exercise for all the major muscle groups of the body – chest, back, shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), abs, and legs quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves).  Aim for two to three weight workouts a week, allowing at least a day’s rest in between. To get the best results, you need to challenge your muscles. If you can easily lift a weight more than 12 times it’s too light.

The best way to measure your progress is by how your clothes fit. Muscle weighs more than fat – but looks a heck of a lot better – so the scale won’t tell you the whole story.

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